Ravi Zacharias was a world-renowned Christian apologist and evangelist. Born in India, he moved to Canada in 1966 and eventually settled in Atlanta, USA. Author of more than 30 books, he also founded the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, which is headquartered in the United States. A well respected evangelical speaker, writer, and leader, he has traveled across the globe teaching and defending the Christian worldview, helping countless multitudes to realize the truth and integrity of the gospel. He was diagnosed with a rare cancer early in 2020 from which he died on May 19. He was 74 years old.
I can’t remember when I first heard about Ravi Zacharias. It must have been those early years of the 2000s when I had just come to a true experience of conversion, after years of mere profession. I had developed a deep hunger for God’s word and it had become a constant delight to my soul, much like Jeremiah had also experienced (Jeremiah 15:16).
Along with this hunger and delight came a growing appreciation for the Christian life and the multitudes who had walked that path before me. I was eager to know about them, to hear their sermons again, to listen in on their prayers, and to catch a spark from their burning hearts. I won’t mention their names now, but I got to know so many, from the earliest days of the church till the present day. Many were pastors, a good number were scholars, but they all left a record that they were devoted servants of the saviour, Jesus Christ.
Somewhere among those still alive was the man, Ravi Zacharias.
I recall reading one of the first apologetics books I ever encountered, Ankerberg and Weldon’s Ready with an Answer. Here was a book dealing with objections to the Christian faith, a very new terrain for someone brought up in the pietistic atmosphere of Nigerian Christianity. And I actually relished the discussions and arguments. For the first time ever, I came to see that Christianity (and its doctrinal elements) was a systematic faith that could be rationally defended. And an author which was referenced a couple of times was Ravi Zacharias.
As my intellectual quest grew and I resorted to internet searches and explorations, I was drawn into a wealth of articles, recorded lectures, audio sermons, and conference messages. Alongside Tim Keller, R.C. Sproul, and D.A. Carson, (I can’t help mentioning some names!) I also came across resources by Ravi Zacharias. I struck up a relationship with his materials and it’s been a rewarding journey ever since.
He was a humble man
Ravi Zacharias fulfilled his calling to a very challenging area: apologetics. This area is challenging not just intellectually because you need to know how to make good arguments, but because it is an area especially suited to stir up pride and vanity. There is a smug satisfaction that you get when you crush an opponent’s arguments and gain the impression that you are such a smart fellow. The task of ‘defending the faith’ then simply becomes a platform for showing off your intellectual sophistication. Instead of glorifying Christ, one ends up glorifying oneself. And you can see instances of this all over social media (especially Facebook) with a good number of self-proclaimed ‘apologists’.
Ravi Zacharias was of a different texture. He was a man profoundly conscious of God’s grace both at the cross and upon his life. He often narrated how he was miraculously saved from an attempted suicide at the age of 17, while still in India, and brought to Christ. That encounter with God’s merciful plucking from destruction has made him realize how much he owes to God. And this disposition shines through in his talks and messages, of which I have watched and listened to so many over the years.
He was a brilliant thinker
It takes intellectual ability to confront intellectual challenges to the Christian faith. And Ravi was the right person for that role. He can hardly speak for 5 minutes without quoting some poet (how he loved poetry!), philosopher, or statesman. Malcolm Muggeridge was a favourite, but there was also G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Aristotle, F.W. Boreham, Immanuel Kant, Aristotle, and several others. He was at home with diverse worldviews and religions, including Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Marxism, Secular Humanism, and countless others. He showed a remarkable understanding of the history of ideas and cultural development. And I have never seen him unnerved by a hostile question or challenge. He was always ready to answer tough questions, whether it was in an academic environment or religious forum or even a Christian gathering. Ravi faithfully adhered to Peter’s admonition to always be prepared to make a defense (1 Peter 3:15).
He was a valiant soldier
A common metaphor we find in the New Testament is that of a soldier. Ravi was a valiant one. It takes courage to maintain the absolute truth of the gospel in a world that believes all truth is relative. Defending the authority of the Bible in an environment that affirms only scientific knowledge is equally a hard task. Modern universities are awash with all kinds of ideas and beliefs, ranging from secularism to postmodernism and even New Age beliefs. And it is a climate increasingly hostile to the Christian heritage of the Western world. Yet, Ravi never tired of entering into this very campuses to lovingly proclaim the absolute truth of the gospel.
He was equally fearless in confronting world leaders with the claims of Christ. From meeting with one of the founders of Hamas (the Palestinian terrorist group) to having meetings with royal dignitaries, as well as discussions with non-Christian intellectuals, Ravi Zacharias knew the gospel is true, that Jesus is not just the Saviour but Truth itself, and he never ceased to point this out.
He loved people
I have never met Ravi Zacharias in person, yet I know his wife’s name is Margie. His daughter, Naomi, is actively involved in a mission to at-risk women, visiting victims of sexual trafficking in many cities across Europe and Asia, and reaching them with the gospel. How do I know this? Because Ravi often talks about them. I also recall his warm mentor-protege relationship with Nabeel Qureshi, the late Pakistani-American Christian apologist and speaker who died in 2017 at the age of 34. Upon Nabeel’s death, Ravi penned a moving tribute in which he reflected:
Nabeel, I will no longer hear you calling me “uncle.” I will miss that. But I will hear you calling me “brother” when we meet again—because we both serve our heavenly Father who adopted us as his own children.
His love for people shined through, not only in the content of his messages or in his relationships, but in his very approach to apologetics. Ravi always emphasized that behind every question is a questioner. In other words, every question posed by a seeker or skeptic often has a context to it, and it is our responsibility as Christ’s disciples to so love people that we try to get at the pain and concern they are actually dealing with. For Ravi, apologetics is not a dry intellectual duel but a loving engagement with people made in God’s own image. We are to go beyond the surface and show the world that the message of Christianity is intellectually credible, existentially liveable, and spiritually satisfying.
Ravi Zacharias is gone, and with his passing, the world has lost a mighty but gentle soldier of the cross. In his several decades of ministry, countless lives across the globe have discovered a faith that answers the questions of the head as well as meets the needs of the heart. And this is not a jelly-like creed ever-adapting to cultural trends, but a faith which burst forth from Joseph’s tomb 2,000 years ago and has stood firm ever since, converting kings and farmers, scholars and labourers alike to its fold.
As Ravi learned from his protege to ‘run the race with passion’, may we also be inspired by his legacy to bear witness to a Christ who not only disarmed his opponents with the truth but also loved them enough to give his life for them. May we cherish the truth so much that we defend it with passion and live it with grace.